The Magna Carta was a document sealed in 1215 by King John and his barons which eventually became part of English law in 1297. It outlined details and rules that barons wanted King John to abide by in order to ensure that everyone, even leaders, must obey the law. This came after King John had been forcing his barons to pay heavy taxes, and imprisoning and kidnapping their sons and nephews when they refused to pay. The barons became angry and decided to force change, creating Magna Carta, one of the most important documents in British history. As a result of this charter, the document has influenced law-making and democracy consistently since it was drawn up, even having an effect on the Victorian era, specifically, Victorian universal suffrage.
Inspired by Magna Carta, the Chartist movement began to develop during the nineteenth century. Their aim was a democratic parliament which they fought for through the medium of peaceful protests. In 1838, they drew up the People’s Charter and presented it to Parliament in 1839, 1842 and 1848, in which it was rejected each time. The Six Points listed in the People’s Charter included:
- Universal suffrage
- Should not have to own property to enter Parliament
- Annual Parliament
- Equal representation for classes
- Payment of MPs
- Voting by secret ballot
The Chartism movement reflected working-class disappointment with the 1832 Reform Act, which only allowed 18% of the male population to vote, and anger at the Poor Law Amendment Act. However, its failure was imminent and was due to a multitude of reasons such as poor leadership, a lack of middle-class support and a lack of co-ordination. Therefore, no change was made due to the People’s Charter.
Eventually, in 1867, the Parliamentary Reform Act was passed which allowed the electorate to increase to 2.5m voters and in 1872 the Ballot Act was passed which allowed secret balloting. These new Acts were influenced by the Chartist movement and allowed universal suffrage for the majority of men by the end of the Victorian era. Therefore, universal suffrage for men was largely influenced by Magna Carta and its overwhelming importance, showing its influence since 1215 until modern day.
From, The Victorian Blogger